Any visitor to Turkmenbashi – Turkmenistan’s derelict port on the Caspian Sea – knows President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov likes his yacht. A poster-size photomontage of him standing before it “sporting a navy blue sailing cap, a French-style white-and-blue striped shirt and binoculars hanging around his neck,” as the U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat purportedly put it, hangs proudly in the lobby of the town’s poshest hotel.
Excerpts from the cable, not yet available on WikiLeaks, but reprinted by The Guardian (with some names redacted):
XXXXXXXXXXXX said in a meeting XXXXXXXXXXXX that this yacht worth 60 million euros was a gift of Russian firm Itera. He added that the president had originally wanted a larger yacht similar to one owned by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, but that yacht would not fit through the canals leading to the Caspian Sea and thus Berdimuhamedov had to settle for this one.
The company [Itera] undoubtedly really wants a gas exploration contract, especially onshore, and the gift of the yacht is a nice enticement to move the process along. As local businessman XXXXXXXXXXXX said, "The gift of a yacht might be for an onshore gas deal, a chicken farm, or works already in progress. Nothing is free in this country."
The yacht appeared forlorn in November, guarded like everything else in Turkmenistan by a couple of malnourished-looking conscripts. One long-time resident of Turkmenbashi complained the president “comes out and drives circles in the Caspian once or twice a year” and “could have bought two and a half oil tankers for the price of that toy.”